“Online Gamers Solve a Tricky AIDS Puzzle”
September 19, 2011 1 Comment
Foldit is an online video game where players try to figure out the best (and therefore most likely) configuration for actual proteins whose structure researchers have not been able to figure out. It’s a phenomenal use of crowdsourcing, and recently it has achieved its second Nature article, as described by Time, among others.
Online Foldit players figured out the structure of a retroviral protease, a type of protein that is crucial to the replication of HIV. In this case, gamers worked on the protein that allows the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus (M-PMV) to progress into simian AIDS in rhesus monkeys. Legitimate scientists have tried unsuccessfully to model the protein; Foldit players working in concert were able to “solve” the structure in a matter of weeks.
I hope more great ideas like Foldit come to the fore; I’ve never played it, but it seems like a big intellectual hurdle translating all of the scientific theory of protein folding into a digestible and fun game. Who knows what else could come from this kind of translation?